FT-backed Sifted raises £4m to grow into 'the FT of European start-ups'

FT-backed site for start-ups Sifted takes £4m for 25% stake two years after launch

Financial Times-backed website Sifted, which covers the world of European start-ups, has raised £4m of investment funding for a 25% stake.

Sifted was launched in January 2019 by FT innovation editor John Thornhill and start-up entrepreneur Caspar Woolley with the aim of reaching a younger generation of European entrepreneurs.

According to Sifted, attracting outside investment of this scale is the only way to match the pace of growth seen at the start-ups it covers. According to Sifted, in the first half of 2021 alone, European start-ups raised some $57.5bn in funding – three times the figure for 2020.

ScaleUp Capital will now become the largest shareholder in Sifted with a 25% stake.

“We’re very excited by the prospect of working with them, to help professionalise all of our operations, to give us a big capital boost and to enable us to then take it to the next level,” Thornhill told Press Gazette. “They not only can add capital, but they also bring in expertise as well.”

Press Gazette understands that the FT sees Sifted as a somewhat experimental investment and so were happy to work with outside partners to help the outlet grow.

“Although we are backed by the FT, we’re not backstopped by the FT. We are very much a start-up business in our own right,” Thornhill said.

“We went down this route because we’re very excited by the size of the prize that we think is open to us in Europe, and we want to scale as quickly as possible… We’re now very keen on building as a business over the next few years to become a self-sustaining and valuable company.”

The FT signed a seven-year deal to be involved with the site when Sifted launched. The start-up can use FT branding and the FT has a seat on its board. But the new deal has seen the FT’s shareholding stake diluted from 25% to 14%.

The remaining 61% of the site not owned by ScaleUp Capital or the FT belongs to numerous other investors.

“We are a big believer that we are at the foothills of a huge mountain of future technological innovation – AI, VR, robotics, crypto, to name a few,” ScaleUp Capital chief executive Simon Philips told Press Gazette.

“Being an authoritative expert voice providing news, comment and analysis to and about this ecosystem is a great place to be. And we believe Sifted can go even further than this by actually helping to support and grow and connect the ecosystem itself with community services, data analytics and a range of other value-added services.”

Sifted has said it plans to use the funding to double its headcount over the next year. It currently has 42 employees including 15 journalists.

Press Gazette understands the majority of that growth will be in the commercial and tech arms of the outlet rather than the editorial team.

The company reports attracting 10m unique visitors per month with a claimed newsletter readership of more than 100,000, a rise from the 67,000 reported in February.

Earlier this year, the outlet launched a partial paywall, making a selection of its premium reporting available to members, for a monthly cost of £19.

A quarter (24%) of Sifted readers are understood to be entrepreneurs themselves, and the publication is increasingly boasting of a growing international readership. Some 20% of its readers come from the US, and around 10% from Asia despite Sifted’s European focus. 

“We are very much focused on international expansion, right across Europe as well as the US and Asia,” said Thornhill, who cited how the title already has an editorial presence in London, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona.

The digital-only publication now reports that nearly half of its readers are under 34 – lower than the average for the FT.

Thornhill said: “We’re incredibly pleased with the progress that we’ve made. I think we’ve proven already that we’re a viable media business and we just want to be more ambitious and to get after that growth that we see emerging in the market.

“I think the goal is to become the reference media for the European start-up world. It is to become the FT of European startups.”

Picture: Sifted

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